Varsity Field Hockey Goes to State Semi-Finals Again

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From top row, left to right: Top Row: Gina Weigold (coach), Erin Flynn, Eleanor Hawkes (manager), Marlena Flynn, Mary-Campbell Spencer, Hannah Kearns, Madison Masloff, Ellie Bowen, Megan Yourkavitch, Milo Oakland (coach) Middle Row: Joie Funk, Hannah Egl, Shelby Flynn, Genevieve Russell, Dorothy Park, Hannah Weyher, Maggie Trundle, Claire Kallen Bottom row: Gracie Bynum, Kira Repich, Reid Ferguson, Anne Patterson, Valerie Hajek, Audrey Russell, Jessica Meeks, Hannah Noll

Coming off a strong 2015 season, having graduated a troupe of strong senior athletes—basically the entire defense—Western Albemarle High School varsity girls’ field hockey coach Milo Oakland describes the opening month of their 2016 season as full of trepidation. “I wasn’t sure that we would be able to repeat our success from the previous season,” said Oakland. “It was pretty clear we were going to need a team-first, pass-first attitude and that created some growing pains. But once the girls figured out how to better move off the ball and get rid of the ball quickly from their stick, we were able to take a different route and find similar success.”

While the first month of competition was tough—the team couldn’t seem to gel and suffered two particularly bad losses—Oakland says they refused to give up and worked hard to improve. Closing out the season with 13 wins, eight losses and a tie overall, the girls won nine of 12 in-conference games—a run that included a seven game winning streak—and advanced to the state tournament semi-finals for the second season in a row. Concerning the losses, Oakland shrugs. “Four of our eight losses were to the two state finalists—runner-up James Monroe beat us three times and the championship winner, Tabb, beat us in the state semi-finals,” he said. “Two more losses were to Albemarle, which had a very strong team this year. And another was to Collegiate, always a private-school powerhouse. Long-story short, even though we lost eight times, seven of the eight were to top-ranked teams in the state.”

The young team featured a squad of uncannily well-matched girls skill-wise, with each player taking on a contributing role in the overall effort. Standouts were midfielder Valerie Hajek and forward Joie Funk, who were both named to the All-State First Team. “Valerie is an NCAA Division-1 caliber player and has offers from the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins,” said Oakland. “She’s special because she has no weakness—she’s a complete player defensively and offensively.” As a center midfielder, Hajek was the team’s leading scorer with 21 goals. Meanwhile, at center forward, Funk was the team’s second leading scorer, with nine goals. “Joie’s value stems from her work ethic, fitness, and tenacity,” said Oakland. “Our team defense could generally be characterized as high-pressure with the other nine field players shifting into position depending on how the initial pressure is applied. Joie almost always applied that initial pressure. Our entire defense started with her.”

Additionally, there were two All-State Second Teamers, defender Audrey Russell and forward Kira Repich. “Audrey was our shutdown left defender,” said Oakland. “She played sparingly last season in the midfield and for her to take on the role that she did this season was pretty incredible. When she first suggested it in the preseason, I was a little surprised, but saw no reason not to try it out. It was clear by the end of the first half of the first game that she was in the perfect place.”

Upon the final analysis, Oakland says the team had a great season. Despite the early woes, the girls relied on strong chemistry—enjoying one another’s company on-field and off—had fun in practice and trained hard to get better. “They had a lot of fun laughing and joking around at times in practice and games, which kept their spirits high,” he said. “On the flip side, they knew when it was important to get down to business and work hard. In that sense, they showed a special maturity you don’t often see in a group of high school kids.”

Losing 11 seniors, Oakland says next year’s season will be about reinvention. However, based on this season’s work and effort, he isn’t worried. “Over the last three years these girls have consistently proven they can meet their goals with a light heart and hard work,” he said. “If that core mentality remains, I have no doubt we’ll find success.”

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